News of the closings of Toys 'R Us hit me in a most unexpected way last week. It has been years since I've ventured into a Toys 'R Us. As an over-the-hill baby boomer with not a single grandchild to brag about, I have about as much reason to go into a toy store as I do Victoria's Secrets. As I read the article I had stumbled across online, memories from another era passed through my mind. Memories of excited youngsters grasping my finger as we strolled up and down aisles of toys. Memories of hurried and frantic last minute Christmas shopping, scrambling to find those items my children had scribbled on the top of their lists. Memories of my three-year-old daughter pointing as we drove by the store on so many occasions, unable to read but readily recognizing the colorful signage, her eyes widening as she begged,
"Oooh, can we go there today?"
And it's gone. Other brick and mortar stores will fall before this year's calendar expires. Experts predict Macy's may not make it through the year, along with JC Pennys, Kmart, and Sears. All from a result of failing to live up to their customers' expectations and a failure to keep pace with a rapidly changing way of doing business, these companies and more will cease to exist, nothing more than a vague memory. The blame always seems to gravitate to Amazon, but if we were honest, every one of these companies simply fell asleep at the wheel. Any one of them could have been the Amazon we all know and love. I believe the one company I am most disappointed in is Sears. They were the Amazon back in their day. Sears and Roebuck had the foresight to reach out to millions of customers right in their own homes, as far back as the nineteenth century. They pioneered home shopping, mailing out millions of catalogs, shipping everything from wood cook stoves to baby chicks directly to their customers' front doors. I remember the glee we experienced as children when the annual Sears Christmas catalog arrived in our mailbox. But somewhere along the way Sears lost their vision and stumbled. And now they lay gasping their last breath, mortally wounded by a giant corporation whose founder quite possibly discovered his vision while browsing through a Sears Christmas catalog at a young age.
My daughter and I found ourselves on the topic while driving around the city the other day. I asked her what society was going to do with itself in a decade when there were no more stores to shop at, no more malls to stroll through, and not a single movie theater left unshuttered. She disinterestedly responded that surely it'd not come to that as she fretted over the fact that she had left some needed adapter to connect her iPhone to the car radio at home. I laughed and suggested we could listen to the radio. I readily agreed with her when she suggested that silence was better than stooping low enough to actually torture ourselves with listening to the radio.
As we rode in silence, my mind dwelled on this ever-changing landscape we find ourselves in. While familiar retailers decompose before our very eyes, there are even more industries we're not readily seeing struggling to survive. Yes, even radio has perhaps seen its heyday. Will we, in a decade or less, be driving through all but abandoned city streets in silence because...there is no more radio?
According to a recent Forbes article ( In The IHeartMedia Bankruptcy, Expect A Major Selloff Of Radio Stations ) as many as 850 radio stations owned by the struggling IHeart Media group could hit the market soon, going at rock bottom prices. These stations simply aren't making any money. The number two media company, Cumulus Media filed for bankruptcy just months ago and may be forced to unload as many as 450 stations. So, if you've ever wanted to own a radio station, now is the time to make your move. They will be going cheap!
Radio began failing us years ago but we had few options if we wanted to listen to music. Commercials annoyed us to no end, with as many as eight to ten being forced upon us between songs. I recall reading an article a couple of years ago that the average station is now playing commercials fifty percent of their airtime. Coupled with struggling music genres whose powers that be had lost touch with listeners, radio became almost a disdain, forcing us to consume music we didn't care to listen to sandwiched between annoying commercials we really, really didn't want to hear. Me personally...I turned the radio off years ago, even before Spotify and Pandora made their appearance. I see radio's chances of survival about as slim as that of a T-rex.
So who's next? Allow me to make a prediction based solely on my own ever-changing habits. I am frankly on the threshold of addiction to streaming television. I've got it all, baby! Netflix, Hulu, Amazon...powered by three Rokus attached to all three TVs! I lived my life for years, perhaps a decade, with the TV off. I did not want to watch fat people lose weight. I cared nothing about watching spoiled millennials trying to outdo each other on some deserted island, nor did single chicks trying to one-up each other to land the bachelor of their dreams interests me in the least. I detested mindless sitcoms, still adding canned laughter so even the most stupid viewer would know when they were supposed to laugh. And should I even mention the countless breaks for ads about everything from erectile dysfunction to maxi pads.
It took me a while the other night to figure out which button on the remote to push to get me back to network television, but something beckoned me to watch the premiere of the 'Rosanne' revival. It was, to an old baby boomer like me, a breath of fresh air...perhaps I should more adequately describe it as a blast from the past. For the first time in a very long time, network TV made me laugh out loud and it felt good. It took me back in time. It jarred memories of evenings when a family gathered around the television after supper. Back to a time when radio played good music...and when toddlers grasped your finger as you led them down aisles and aisles of toys, their eyes gleaming, unknowing at the time that those times would someday be nothing more than a memory.